We know since Carol Dweck’s 2014 TED talk, that your attitude to people, your mindset about their potential can actually shape their performance. More than 11 million views on her TED talk, and an estimated 20 million copies of her books sold show how significant and inspiring her ideas have been in the past few years.
Let’s start with a really brief reminder about what we are talking about here.
What is the growth mindset concept about?
The basic idea is that you can either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset about someone’s potentials, and your mindset will determine their performance.
Fixed mindset means that you believe performance is rooted in talent and shaped by circumstances independent of the person, and cannot really be improved that much. You are pre-determined to succeed or fail based on your IQ, your family’s social-economical status and genes, or god’s will, like it all happens to you. One side of the concept is that once you believe this, you will actually limit yourself and your performance to the level pre-determined by those outside factors. You will not go beyond them.
Growth mindset on the other hand means that you believe that your potential is not entirely limited by talent or outside factors, but to a large extent depends on the work you put in. The other side of the concept is that once you believe this, you will actually surpass the performance level pre-determined by given factors and will only be limited by the work you put in, and obviously some laws of nature.
Carol Dweck is a psychologist and professor who has researched this theory for 30 years. She claims that it works not only for children, but for adults, too, like employees in workplaces.
But while children tend to have an inherent growth mindset about their own potential in most areas, adults are many times already conditioned to a fixed mindset regarding their own and others’ capabilities in most topics.
But why is this important?
The relevance of growth mindset in the digital world today
We live in a world building on continuous innovation. Innovation means coming up with something new, which implies that you must step on unthreaded ground. So it is just natural that you make mistakes in the process. In this way failure is a way to grow – except in the eyes of those with a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset you judge actual performance. If you didn’t do a „good job” then you are not smart enough, not talented enough, have no potential. You have reached your limits. With a growth mindset on the other hand you are not there … yet. You will succeed eventually if you try hard enough.
We also live in a world where there is a huge IT talent gap slowing down innovation. We need to go digital fast, but this requires new skills, which many of our current employees do not have. And we tend to believe that they can’t either. We recognise IT talents, digital natives and nerd geniuses, and underestimate the potential of the rest. We rather buy 5 years experience from the market than invest 1 year training in our most valuable asset, the loyal employee. We even buy the 1 year experience before considering building it in-house.
Obviously, there are a lot of different factors at play here apart from mindset and potentials. Sometimes you need the skills fast, or the employee is not interested, or you simply lack the capacity to enable their growth yourself. So the situation is not always black-and-white and growth mindset is not the single best answer to all of our current challenges. But it is a very valid one, and it is worth some serious consideration.
We at Codecool want to make the IT talent gap a thing of the past and enable digitalisation by building on growth mindset. And also by bringing education closer to the workplace, letting our clients’ shape our curriculum and building on the hard core skillset of our pro trainer crew.
But how do we make growth mindset work? Let’s dive in.
How do we put growth mindset in action?
Growth mindset has become a fancy buzzword for managers showing their competence, that they are keeping up with trends, driving change, and prioritising employees’ growth and motivation.
But it is not always easy to walk the talk. There are still too many layoffs, too few sectors and areas with job rotation, too many talent programs in place and too far-fetched expectations in job ads. There is still a huge wall between tech and non-tech people in many organisations and no ambition or real plan to make it possible for people to climb it.
We at Codecool bet our business model on growth mindset and it proved a winning bet in the past more than 5 years. We decided to break down that wall between tech and non-tech talents and help people with no relevant background whatsoever to become the best junior tech resources on the market.
How do we do that?
1. We focus in the beginning
During the selection process, instead of looking at previous studies, technical experience or achievements we explore our applicants’ goals, drive and selected aspects of their psychological profile. We also look at their logic and English language skills, but no further hard skills. Our real life case studies proved that certain soft skills and attitude provide a real good indication of our students’ future success.
2. They get the big picture right away
Instead of just us believing in our students’ potential we also let them on the idea behind our approach. During the first few days we present them the growth mindset theory, share our implementation plan for it and point out their own roles in the scheme. We tell them that becoming a tech talent is basically their own individual decisions to make. They have been carefully vetted and „passed our test”. This means that if they work hard enough for it, we guarantee that they will become the IT professional they want to become.
3. We both sign on it for a start
We spend the most time – 5 days a week for a whole year – with our full-time full-stack student. They are the ones that we can have the biggest impact on, that is why we put a kind of job guarantee in their contract. We are so convinced that they can and they will become great juniors even without any IT background, that if we can’t get them hired in 6 months after finishing the course, they will not have to pay for their training with us. 98% of them get hired so we do not actually run a big risk here – partly because of the growth mindset we stick to with each and every one of them.
4. They work in teams all the way
To make sure individual success and failures are not taking their focus, we make students work in different project groups during the whole course. This way we also introduce them to an agile way of working, make them learn from each other and let them organically develop their soft skills.
5. We encourage a failure culture
We explicitly encourage our students to fail as many times as possible to enable them to succeed eventually. This way they learn to take alternative approaches to problems, develop an analytical attitude, understand that failure is inevitable, get used to collecting themselves mentally afterwards and fail less later, in workplace situations with higher stakes.
6. They get challenging but achievable goals
The tasks our students get are carefully developed to match the actual level of their skills and confidence during the course. Trainers and peers are there to help and resources are provided, but we make sure not to give the answers. Small daily successes build their skills, confidence and experience all the way, but only if they can learn something from them every time.
7. They take test results as a snapshot not a judgement
Frequent evaluation of progress helps our students see where they are in a process and what they still need to work on. We try to make sure test and exam results are not taken as a verdict but only help orientation and keep up motivation.
What does all this do to our students?
In spite of all the careful selection and our best efforts throughout, some students do drop out from our school. It’s just natural, since we are one of the toughest programming schools out there. Some people just underestimate the workload, face an unexpected situation in their private lives or change their minds about their future. However, almost all of those who stay with us for the whole course succeed with their goals and become great juniors eventually, whom their new companies will be happy to have.
What makes them so great apart from their wide array of hard and soft practical skills? What does growth mindset do to them?
- They are team players. They are able and driven to share their thoughts, responsibilities and successes with their colleagues. They take ownership of shared challenges and support the development of others.
- They get things done. They understand they are capable of solving challenges, and are okay with trying different options until they succeed.
- They become better and better. They understand the direct impact hard work has on their own development and like raising the bar for themselves.
Things you would not expect from your average junior and which are actually quite hard to develop from scratch in a workplace environment.
So we could say that we really make growth mindset work for us, our students and our clients. We believe in this approach and would encourage more companies to adopt it.
But where to start?
Word of advice
We would suggest to think twice before letting your experienced, loyal people go just because the skillset your company needs changes so fast. It is in general more expensive to hire people with all the recruitment and onboarding efforts and lead times, and market prices put on skills and years of experience. Sometimes the better option is to get the right training for your people and let them grow into their new roles, with an enhanced skillset and boosted motivation.
At other times you need to find new employees from the market, especially when you need to grow the size of your organisation anyway, or when you need the new skills really fast. Make sure to select colleagues that can easily adapt to your company culture, deliver value from day one and will grow together with you. Be aware, that sometimes you can find all this in really great juniors.
In general, we suggest that you adapt a truly future-proof, growth mindset, and not just on narrative level. Think of your new and existing colleagues as your most valuable assets and give them a real chance to grow for their own good and your continued business success.